The recent conflict in Israel and Gaza hit close to home with many UNLV students. Multiple rallies and protests were held this week on campus and throughout Las Vegas, showing how much the conflict matters to them.
On Monday, students from the newly formed club, Students Supporting Israel (SSI) held a “Stand with Israel” rally at Pida Plaza outside the Student Union. The club was formed only two weeks ago.
“My initial reaction was shock, fear, anger and sadness,” said SSI President Gaia Steinerg on the weekend’s tragic events. “I’m constantly just scared for my family and loved ones over there. The only way we can help from here is rallying and showing support in any way we can.”
Steinberg is a dual American-Israeli citizen whose entire family lives in Israel.
The rally was attended by 20 or so other students, who waved Israeli flags, sang songs and consoled each other.
“I felt fear. It’s very emotional,” said Roysa Polonski, a hospitality student who attended the rally in support. “When you see civilians being targeted, killed, kidnapped, it’s heartbreaking. I was in shock that this was happening. These are war crimes committed against civilians.”
Seth Amran is a first year international business student who was shocked by the attacks. “It’s been fifty years since the Yom Kippur War, and then this incident happened. This is definitely Israel’s 9/11.”
Israel declared war on Gaza following the attacks by Hamas, retaliating with airstrikes into the densely populated Gaza Strip. The Israeli defense minister said that Gaza will be put “under siege” and water, food, and fuel will not be allowed into the enclave. Israel has since called for 1.1 million people living in Gaza to evacuate. So far, over 3 thousand people have died on both sides, with thousands more injured.
On Thursday, pro-Palestine organizations including Nevadans for Palestinian Liberation (NPL) and Free Palestine Alliance organized a protest called “All Out for Palestine.” It was held outside Lloyd George Federal Courthouse downtown. A pro-Israeli rally was held just across the street, and Las Vegas metropolitan police lined the road-divider between both groups to provide a police presence amidst the tension.
“I am filled with utter disgust and rage at seeing the Israeli regime escalate its attacks on Gaza and the Palestinian people,” wrote Francine in an email, a sociology student and member of the UNLV chapter of NPL. She requested us not to use her last name. She also wrote, “I do want to clarify that the lack of capitalization for ‘israel’ is deliberate and I would kindly ask that you don’t edit it to be capitalized.”
She is worried about the people in Gaza trapped from the siege and “what hell Israel is going to unleash on the people of Gaza.”
Ibrahim Bhatti is an interdisciplinary student at UNLV that attended “All Out for Palestine” to show his support for Palestinians.
“We’re here protesting the bombing of Gaza and Israeli occupation,” Bhatti said.
As both sides chanted at each other, Bhatti said that the pro-Israel side across the street “is right to feel pissed off at what Hamas did” but said that the violence committed against the Palestinians is rarely talked about, citing the Nakba and occupation of the West Bank.
Bhatti ended with a message of optimism: “I have hope for the day that the people over there will be able to shake hands with the people over here, to share condolences together, to eat food together, to be one people. Inshallah. God willing this will happen. I am confident.”
UNLV and NSHE officials sent out statements about the recent conflict.
“The atrocities committed against civilians, including Americans, by Hamas in Israel over the weekend were reprehensible,” began UNLV President Keith Whitfield in a statement sent out over email. He also added that UNLV “will remain steadfast in our commitment to providing safe and inclusive learning environments during these particularly challenging times…”
NSHE Chancellor Patricia Harlton echoed President Whitfield’s sentiments, adding, “we will continue to provide support to our students and colleagues, respecting the widely different views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” She also made NSHE’s stance on any harassment due to the recent events clear, saying “incidents of targeted harassment, direct threats, or the creation of pervasive hostile environments for vulnerable populations will not be tolerated.”
The conflict in Gaza continues to escalate as Israeli troops move toward the border of Gaza for a possible ground incursion. Despite many important differences, supporters and advocates from both sides of the issue share a common goal—wanting their voices to be heard.